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Strategic control in decision-making under uncertainty


Scott A. Huettel, as above.


Complex economic decisions – whether investing money for retirement or purchasing some new electronic gadget – often involve uncertainty about the likely consequences of our choices. Critical for resolving that uncertainty are strategic meta-decision processes, which allow people to simplify complex decision problems, evaluate outcomes against a variety of contexts, and flexibly match behavior to changes in the environment. In recent years, substantial research has implicated the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) in the flexible control of behavior. However, nearly all such evidence comes from paradigms involving executive function or response selection, not complex decision-making. Here, we review evidence that demonstrates that the dmPFC contributes to strategic control in complex decision-making. This region contains a functional topography such that the posterior dmPFC supports response-related control, whereas the anterior dmPFC supports strategic control. Activation in the anterior dmPFC signals changes in how a decision problem is represented, which in turn can shape computational processes elsewhere in the brain. Based on these findings, we argue for both generalized contributions of the dmPFC to cognitive control, and specific computational roles for its subregions depending upon the task demands and context. We also contend that these strategic considerations are likely to be critical for decision-making in other domains, including interpersonal interactions in social settings.